August 17, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/Preetha Harikrishna

'I have no anger towards Veerappan. But he should not be given amnesty'

"My husband always talked about him as a petty poacher and sandalwood smuggler," says Preetha Harikrishna. "He just thought of him as another miscreant who must be nabbed and brought to justice. Nobody expected that Veerappan would kill my husband instead!"

Superintendent of Police T Harikrishna served two stints with the Special Task Force set up to catch Veerappan, once in 1990 and again in 1992. At that time, Veerappan was still perceived as a small-time villain who could be easily flushed out of the jungle. It was only after he killed Harikrishna and his trusted lieutenant, Sub-Inspector Shakeel Ahmed, in an encounter in August 1992, that the police and the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka realised the extent of Veerappan's capabilities.

Preetha then was a simple housewife who did not know even how to operate a bank account. She was left to take care of her two toddlers, a daughter and a son. Eight years later, she is an accomplished businesswoman running a gas agency, which was given to her on compassionate grounds. Her children are in a residential school nearby.

She harbours no feelings of bitterness or vendetta against Veerappan. But she does feel strongly that he should neither be given amnesty, nor should his men be allowed to go scot-free. She spoke to M D Riti in Bangalore. Excerpts from the interview:

Do you think Veerappan should be given amnesty now? Or that TADA [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act] detainees should be released, as he wants?

Of course not! I think it will set a trend for people to kidnap celebrities and hold governments to ransom. The government should show some resistance. The people being held under TADA were arrested in connection with the murder of policemen like my husband. If they allow them to go free, they will simply go back to their old ways and strengthen Veerappan.

Veerappan has killed more than 150 people. How can the government even consider giving him amnesty? If he had repented and asked for pardon, his request could have been considered. But this man is holding hostages and dictating terms.

The government too has been pushed to the wall. I don't think Veerappan will ever harm Dr Rajakumar. But you can't take chances... who, for example, thought he would actually succeed in killing my husband?

Was your husband the victim of an accidental encounter? Or was he specifically targeted by Veerappan?

Oh, there was nothing accidental about his death. Veerappan specifically set out to kill my husband and Shakeel Ahmed. They had caught a lot of his men and were very determined to catch him. My husband had declared in the local press that he was hot on Veerappan's trail and that he would catch him within seven days. So Veerappan felt he should finish him off instead. Besides, there was tremendous police pressure on Veerappan, so he felt pushed and wanted to strike back.

Harikrishna and his men were accused by local villagers and human rights activists of being quite tough with villagers they suspected of supporting Veerappan. Were they? Part of Veerappan's anger now seems to have been fuelled by police action then.

I do not know anything about that. I am quite sure my husband would not have harassed innocent villagers or been unnecessarily tough. He was a very just, duty-conscious man.

Did your husband ever actually meet Veerappan before that last fateful encounter?

Never. He was on his trail, but had never actually sighted him. Except, as you say, in the last moments of his life...

Was your husband on a personal crusade against Veerappan? Did he have a missionary zeal to catch him?

No, not at all. It was just another job. My husband was a perfectionist. He came up the hard way. So he always made sure that whatever he did, he did perfectly. This was a task assigned to him. He wanted to complete it.

Did he volunteer to be on the STF? Or was he assigned to be on it?

He volunteered the first time round, without consulting me. He first reported to the STF on the very day my son was born! He came to the hospital in full uniform. When I remarked about that, he said he had to go for bandobust duty.

When you did come to know, how did you react?

Well, at first, it seemed so strange that Veerappan, who had seemed so far removed, was going to intrude into our domestic lives. I even told my husband that there are so many police officers in the state, why can't someone else take up the duty? But he only said that his colleagues too were family men.

Did he really perceive Veerappan as a major threat or a very dangerous individual?

No. He thought he was a petty poacher hiding in the jungles. That was the first time around in 1990. I stayed on in Bangalore and he went to the jungles. He used to visit the children and me only once in a fortnight or so.

Then there was [Deputy Conservator of Forests] P Srinivas, who thought he could reform Veerappan. At that time, many of Veerappan's men had been caught, and many others had surrendered. So Srinivas went into the jungle to meet Veerappan unarmed and was beheaded. As soon as my husband read about that, he told me that they would definitely call him back to the STF. At that time, he was the SP of Kolar district. The call came exactly a day later, and he was back in the STF.

Why did they want him back? Because he knew Veerappan, his methods of operation and his terrain?

Something like that. He too wanted to go back to the STF after Srinivas was killed so brutally. They all wanted badly to get Veerappan. This time we decided that the children and I should also move with him to Mysore so that we could spend time together. So he took a transfer as SP of Mysore and was also part of the STF.

Were you afraid?

Yes. But my husband always had his way in whatever he felt strongly about. He still took it very lightly. He used to say that Veerappan was not such a big threat and that all stories about him were exaggerated.

While chasing Veerappan, did he tell you anything about him, his men, his modus operandi or his psychology?

No, in fact, he never would discuss Veerappan at home. He was concerned that I would get worried about his safety. If the subject was raised, he would change it.

Did he go into the jungles after Veerappan very often?

I have no idea. I never knew where he went.

Even on the day he was killed?

On that day too. He told me he was going to Kollegal, and would be back for lunch, because a friend of his was in Mysore. At 1 pm, I was waiting for him, thinking he would walk in at any moment. Instead, the telephone rang, and it was the friend of his asking me how Harikrishna was.

I was shocked. By that time, the Mysore police had heard that there had been an encounter with Veerappan's gang, and that my husband was seriously injured. But I had not been informed. Meanwhile, I went to his office. A deputy superintendent of police was on the wireless trying to get information. He asked me not to worry. He said there had been an encounter, but nothing had happened to Harikrishna.

I really believed that. It was only later, when I returned home, and visitors started pouring in with condolences, that I realised that my husband was dead.

Are you considering going to court against the release of TADA detainees, as Shakeel Ahmed's father has?

No, because my survival and that of my children is a far bigger concern for me. Ahmed's father did approach me about going to court even as soon my husband and his son were killed. But then I had to work out survival tactics for myself and my children. I am still completely caught up trying to keep my children and myself going.

Would you like your husband's death avenged?

No. I have no anger or feelings of vendetta against Veerappan. But I think he must be flushed out and eliminated. He has been allowed to run free for far too long, and has ruined so many people's lives. The government should take a firm stand on this now.

If your son wants to join the police force, will you support him?

Oh, I have no quarrel with the police force. They have been most supportive. I am proud to have been the wife of a police officer who laid down his life in the line of duty. My son can select whatever profession he wishes to, including police service, and I will support him.

The Rajakumar Abduction: The complete coverage
The saga of Veerappan

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